illustration by @katyauspenskaya

Is Your Yoga Studio as Ethical as It Seems?

Sometimes it’s an uphill battle enough to get out and step into the yoga studio for a weekly class.

You have to set yourself up to leave the house. Or make sure you shut down your work computer in time to make the bus. Even remembering a change of clothes can be a struggle; forgetting to include something as small and annoying as a hair accessory can make your downward dog more like a downward mop.

So then, when we throw yoga ethics and social responsibility into the mix, things get just that little more challenging.

I want to invite you to consider the quality of your attention to your whole Yoga practice, in particular, the ethical and social values of the environment and framework within which you practice.

Does the studio you patronize – week in, week out, maybe even year after year – who you give your hard earned cash to, walk their talk as a ‘Yoga’ business?

And I want to make a distinction between the Teaching Staff, and the Studio. Because that’s a whole other basket of eye masks and the focus of this article doesn’t really apply to the Teaching or the individual contractor side of the discussion.

I’m wanting to hone in on the Studio / Business / Shop front which ultimately provides you the access to a teacher and their class sets the timetable and dictates the style of yoga that is offered. I want to ask you to consider if that place of business actually cares about Yoga as a transformational tool (physically; emotionally or spiritually) and thus provides a safe, integrous space for practice in and with a living community of fellow Yogis?

Or rather, are they in it for the fame and Yoga dollar?

Not sure? Well, let’s break this down, quick and easy. This will be a Yoga History Lite version of events to give context as to why this matters and to what framework you can use to measure.

Let’s bring briefly into focus an infamous Yoga text almost guaranteed as a reference in Yoga Teacher Trainings globally: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras explore the ‘Eightfold Path’ (eight limbs) of Yoga which are guidelines for living with meaning and purpose. In the modern Yoga world, they are referenced as the moral and ethical codes of conduct for living with self-discipline, mindfulness, and attention to our spiritual consciousness.

The first limb is Yama, which can simply be distilled into a familiar sentiment of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. And the five principles of Yama are Ahimsa (nonviolence); Satya (truthfulness); Asteya (non-stealing); Brahmacharya (continence); and Aparigraha (non-covetousness). Translated; Kindness, truthfulness, abundance, the right use of energy, and self-reliance.

As promised this is going to be Yoga History Lite, so we’ll stop there.

Regardless of whether you practice Yoga for the benefit of Mind, Body or Spirit, the first limb (Yama) is in essence underpinned by an attitude and action of compassion, inclusivity, discernment, and care. All the good stuff. And good for everyone, right? So how does all this theory work in practice?

In a real-world scenario, doesn’t it feel good to participate in an ecosystem of compassion, inclusivity, discernment, and care? It’s nice to do things without a critical or punishing eye on us to highlight our failures or challenges when we falter or struggle as we try something new. It feels comforting to be welcomed, acknowledged and seen when we turn up to be a part of a community. It makes sense to allow and support mutual growth and understanding through broadening participation. Everyone can learn, benefit and be empowered when we extend our own good fortune, access, and gifts out, and beyond our immediate network.

This is Yoga in action.

And here is a sleuth of questions for you to apply to your local studio to see if Yoga is actually a part of their business model.

Are there feel-good mantras and community branding on the wall, emails, and in merchandise and at the same time a lack of genuine face-to-face engagement, or a distinctly unhappy, unfriendly atmosphere before and after classes?

Is ‘high’ the only vibe that is permitted? Or is there an explicit and shared awareness of the many possibilities for being, feeling, and experiencing your practice of yoga, and by extension, the wider world?

Is ‘high’ the only vibe that is permitted?

Do you pay a high fee for your class/ membership but see a staff of teachers who are exhausted, running long hours and seem at their limits?

Is there a ‘Karma Yogi’ system running in the studio? A common practice whereby administration / front desk staff work ‘volunteer hours’ and are ‘reimbursed’ (ie. their labour is exchanged) with a monthly class access pass, which is significantly under the value of the cost of what would be their employed monthly earnings. And of course without employee benefits.

Can you be sure that your studio is paying a ‘living wage’ to its teachers?

In ‘regular’ or ‘open’ classes are there extra instructions, alternative postures or props easily available to allow for a diversity of practitioners? Or are students completely left behind mid sequence whilst other students pursue more challenging and/or advanced postures?

Is striving, drive, ‘nailing the pose’, grit, and determination the only practice qualities that seem to matter? Can you take what you need from a class, gently progress, or rest without feeling inadequate or self-conscious?

Does the studio offer community access classes, host events or fundraisers, or raise awareness for social causes and/or disadvantaged populations for the benefit of the local area or partner with a social enterprise or development organization?

Have well-like, knowledgeable and experienced teachers unexpectedly been dropped from the timetable and when asked, are tight-lipped or vague, or ‘on message’ about the reasons they no longer teach classes at the studio?

Does the studio owner actually practice Yoga or in anyway participate in the studio community’s growth and development? Do they make themselves visible or available for queries or concerns? What is their purpose, and vision or ‘why’ for investing in Yoga?

Needless to say, the possibility of questions are endless. And maybe it’s an unmanageable addition to your mental load right now. And if that’s the case, that’s cool because this is a seed that will sit with you, and over time, eventually sprout.

One way or another you will inadvertently become attuned to the ‘bigger picture’ of your yoga experience. You *will* start to notice things or at least the absence of some of the things mentioned here.

In times like these, discernment is everything. Money talks and efforts we make to support our mind and body must absolutely be contained in a yoga space and ethical framework that loudly, and clearly advocates kindness, compassion and inclusivity.

Choose consciously and choose wisely my fellow yogi.

Illustration by Katya Uspenskaya


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